Keaggy gives a honey-sounding solo performance of his greatest hits.
Label: Strobie Records
Time: 13 tracks / 70 minutes
Phil Keaggy had a problem. When performing live, he would play songs from his 30-something albums, and where necessary, would build loops and solo over the top – especially on his instrumental pieces. But after the gig, when the audience came to the merchandise table, he would have nothing that caught the experience. The live tracks were so dispersed that any studio album only had a couple of relevant songs, but he was unhappy with the technical quality of the live albums that brought material together.
Hence this disc: recorded in his his home studio, it has a selection of his most popular tracks, but all done in a mainly acoustic style, many beefed up with looping where it reflects his concert performance.
Those familiar with Keaggy might at first find some tracks sounding a little slender without a full line-up. However, this only serves to highlight Keaggy’s guitar and in whatever mode he plays it, it comes across as remarkably golden and honeyed – very much the sound of Master and the Musician.
The tracklist covers his history well. Old songs like “What a Day” and “Your Love Broke Through” still sound fresh, and the jazz inflexions of the former seem a little enhanced; live staple “Let Everything Else Go” is honed to perfection; and more recent songs like “Chalice” stay on the brain. Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” is surely as good a version as you could find anywhere and the thinner-sounding George Harrison cover “Here Comes the Sun” is always a welcome track.
To ensure that this really reflects what he can do and who he is, there is plenty of instrumental work. Although “Shades of Green” is listed as nine minutes, it develops in steps and is, in effect, several shorter pieces strung together. “Legacy” shows how he has lost the tendency to self-indulgence that graced the triple-live set How the West was Won and has gained a restraint that makes simplicity a satisfying virtue.
Keaggy’s mature and ingenious use of his technology is striking. This is not just another acoustic guitarist building layers of percussive and string loops into a crescendo. If you did not know that each track was being played completely live, you might not believe it - I for one had to go back and check. While he does build layers, an electric overlay might sit on top of plucked acoustic arpeggios a couple of times and then disappear. He seems able to bring fills in and out at will. He only adds bits when it makes a difference; and he is master of the equipment, not at all a slave to its formats.
Several of these tracks have a spring breeze wafting through them that might refresh those of us that have bought many of Keaggy’s works across the years, but this is also probably the best starting point for newcomers to his varied and immaculately-played material.